On her first Mother’s Day without her son, Nicole Smith-Holt of Richfield will tend the memorial garden she grew in his honor.
“I thought it was only fitting,” she said, as tears welled in her eyes, “that I’d spend my day doing the things he loved to do to make me happy.”
From the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol, Smith-Holt rallied Saturday against the high and rising prices of prescription drugs — an epidemic that she says killed her son Alec Smith.
The 26-year-old restaurant manager died alone in his Minneapolis apartment last June, just weeks after aging out of his parents’ health insurance. Unable to afford coverage of his own, he had begun rationing diabetes medication until his next paycheck because he couldn’t pay for the $1,300 refill.
An autopsy found that he had suffered a critical shortage of insulin.
Now his family is calling for legislation to prevent excessive price increases for essential medications that Americans need to survive.
Amid chants of “patients over profits!” about 60 people gathered Saturday to try to pressure lawmakers to take action — particularly on older drugs such as insulin and epinephrine allergy injections, which have become more expensive without fundamentally changing.
On Friday, President Donald Trump unveiled his plan to lower drug prices, focusing on private competition rather than negotiations under Medicare. Trump recommended requiring drug companies to disclose the cost of medicines in advertisements and speeding up the approval process for over-the-counter medications so customers can buy more drugs without prescriptions.
Democrats including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar criticized his plan for not doing enough to rein in the pharmaceutical industry, which Trump had previously accused of “getting away with murder.”
“The pharmaceutical companies own Washington,” Klobuchar said Saturday. “We’re not going to take this anymore. We’re going to stand up against the drug companies.”
Throughout the rally, speakers shared stories of Minnesotans who struggle to afford insulin each month, and they displayed photos of several people with type 1 diabetes who died because of a lack of medication.
Quinn Nystrom, a national diabetes advocate from Baxter, Minn., said it’s a shame that the richest nation in the world does such a poor job taking care of its citizens.
“Why is it that when you cross the border north to Canada, the drug is $35, and if you go south to Mexico, the drug is $50, but in the United States of America, where I have health insurance, it’s $285?” Nystrom said. “Insulin isn’t optional. It’s our life support.”
Brittany Smith, Alec Smith’s sister, read an account about a close friend who lives in fear of losing access to insulin. “No one should have to chose between paying for insulin or paying the mortgage,” she said.
Dr. Victor Montori, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, accused the health care system of corrupting its mission for the sake of profits. “The consequences are human lives,” he said. “It’s a cruelty we can no longer accept.”